We were folk who told the stories and held on to the object, until the objects embodied the stories. Thus the distant past, the immigrant past, for me is as close as yesterday, as close as the things as the shelf, as close as the shelf itself.
As for themselves, the grandmothers chose what to keep. They had little nostalgia, no sentiment for hardship. They were the immigrants, self-taught and self-made. They left much behind, could not dwell in the past. They created their lives anew. We are different. We treasure their gear, divining meaning beyond material use, bearing it across a continent in a U-Haul truck.
We cup in our hands a satin ribbon and it tethers us to our past.
–Elizabeth Ehrlich, Miriam’s Kitchen
What does it mean that people from my grandparents’ generation didn’t want to talk about, or remember the past? What does it mean that in my generation, we spend so much time searching for the past? My grandparents didn’t tell stories about their childhood, my parents didn’t keep in touch with aunts, uncles, and cousins. I spend hours researching my family history on Ancestry.com. I paid $100 to have my DNA analyzed by 23andMe. I pore over old family photos, make family trees, connecting the dots between myself and relatives I’ve never met. I’ve sent Facebook friend requests to others I haven’t seen in 40 years.These are topics I am exploring in my notebooks and in my knitting. Because I learned to knit from my grandmother, I feel a connection to the past, through her, every time I pick up my yarn and needles. Did her mother knit? Sarah, my great-grandmother, died when my grandmother was a toddler, so if she did knit, she didn’t pass that skill down through the generations to me. I don’t know who taught my grandmother to knit, and now that she’s gone, I can’t ask her. And, at least according to 23andMe, there’s no gene that can track the movement of knitting through the generations.
I’m sure, however, that such a gene exists. Creativity runs rampant in my family. My sister is a jewelry designer. My aunt was a pattern designer for Vogue. My cousins are graphic artists, painters, and knitters. Even my mother, who never considered herself to be creative, sewed all of our clothes when we were children, made puppets out of bargain blankets, and now, in retirement, has begun drawing and sketching with meticulous detail that puts my own attempts to shame.
To me, the things we make and the things we own become part of us and when we are finished with those things, when we pass them on to others, we are passing on a piece of ourselves along with whatever the object may be. That’s why I want to make knitting books that have stories as well as projects. That’s why I want other designers to share and record their stories along with their patterns. That’s why I want knitters to pass on stories with each piece of knitting they make, to send messages to the future, to give their children and grandchildren a way to remember the past.
What stories are you knitting for the future?
The Stories In Stitches™ book series is part of my effort to understand the past and influence the future through knitting. To learn more and to read more stories like this, visit www.storiesinstitches.net. The first 4 books are available now. They feature knitting stories from “Around the World” as well as family stories from me and Stories In Stitches co-creator, Ava Coleman. In the pages of Stories In Stitches, we share our favorite stories and knitting know-how with readers around the world. Each volume includes projects from a far-away time or place. It is our desire to inspire and empower knitters of all skill levels to move beyond the line-by-line pattern into the realm of creating their own modern folk-art designs.